Woman steals more than $250,000 from Shepparton employer

By Liz Mellino

A court has heard how a woman who stole more than $250,000 from her Shepparton employer is deeply remorseful and ashamed of her actions.

Joanne Whiteley, 48, of Rushworth, faced Shepparton's County Court on Monday after pleading guilty to stealing a total of $255,433 over 12 years from JDK Management in Shepparton.

Whiteley's defence counsel Carly Lloyd told the court her client had been under financial hardship at the time of the offending, taking steps to prioritise the welfare of her two sons.

“(Whiteley) didn't want to foreclose on the house so she took illegal steps in order to prevent that from happening ... she understands how wrong that was,” Ms Lloyd said.

Prosecutor Darryl Brown told the court Whiteley had obtained the money between May 26, 2006 and October 12, 2017, when she was employed as a full-time accounts manager at JDK Management.

The court heard Whiteley obtained the money by flagging duplicated payments from customers, requesting a cheque be drawn up on the customer's behalf to return the overpayment to them.

“Whiteley would prepare a cheque that would be signed by Donny Kalafatis who was the only signatory on the account ... the cheque would be returned to Whiteley to send to the customer,” Mr Brown said.

The court heard Whiteley would alter the cheque from the customer's name into her name or cash, before depositing the cheques into her bank account.

Mr Brown said Whiteley would deposit multiple cheques at the same time in an attempt to make the deposits difficult to detect.

“The bank honoured the cheques and transferred the money from JDK's account to Joanne Whiteley's account,” he said.

The court heard the matter was reported to police on January 12, 2018 when an audit was conducted, which revealed Whiteley deposited 86 cheques ranging from $475 to more than $17,000.

Mr Brown said Whiteley was arrested and interviewed on November 6, 2018 where she stated "no comment" to each question.

The court was read a victim impact statement from one of the owners of JDK, which said Whiteley's actions had caused a "great deal of anger and hurt", saying Whiteley won over the family's trust with the purpose of stealing from them.

Ms Lloyd said there was no evidence to suggest Whiteley was using the money to support a lavish lifestyle, instead stating during the offending period Whiteley had limited funds left after paying her bills.

The court heard from Whiteley's sister and son, who both described Whiteley as a hardworking mother who was committed to her job.

“We can't believe it because we have never had a lot — Mum struggled to pay for bills and groceries; we have never had luxuries or anything like that,” Whiteley's son said.

“Still to this day I find it very hard to believe it is something she's done,” her sister said.

Whiteley's son said his mother was currently working two jobs to support herself, saying she was currently "rundown and sick" and would "do anything it takes to stay out of jail".

Ms Lloyd said a psychologist report diagnosed Whiteley with major depressive disorder, recommending her for treatment due to her current emotional state.

“She is in a world of pain, the impact is felt acutely by her family ... it's acknowledged that there's a significant breach of trust here,” she said.

“It went on for a very long time, however, spread out across 12 years it looks a little bit different.”

Judge John Smallwood said the documentation provided to the court did not clearly state where all of the money had gone, asking Ms Lloyd to provide further information regarding Whiteley's spending.

He said it was also concerning that Whiteley had not paid any of the money back since she was arrested in November last year.

“In a trusted situation for over a decade and she ends up stealing a quarter of a million dollars and none of it has been paid back ... I still haven't worked out how she did it yet and how she got away with it for 12 years,” Mr Smallwood said.

Whiteley will be sentenced on Friday.